Mergers, Competition, and the Solicitors Qualifying Exam...

  • April 07, 2022

AJ Chambers find and recruit the very best in the legal profession, from those starting their career right the way up to partnership level. We have spent the last 10 years understanding and shaping futures in the UK's leading law firms.

Shannon graduated from university with first-class honours in Law and joined AJ Chambers as part of the London legal team, focusing on private practice recruitment of professionals into Employment, Pensions and Immigration teams throughout the City of London. Over the past 12 months she has been in constant contact with aspiring solicitors, experienced professional, and some of the top firms in the country.

By talking with those at all levels of the legal ladder Shannon has gained valuable insights into the state of the market and its current trends, all of which you can read below:

Introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)

The SQE is a centralised exam that all new solicitors will now need to pass to qualify. Split into two parts (SQE1 and SQE2) the exams provide a standardised test that should alleviate potential discrepancies between separate providers of the current Legal Practice Course. The first exams took place in November 2021. Just over half (53%) of the candidates passed this stage. By contrast, pass rates of the LPC varied between 31% – 100% (dependent upon the provider) for the 2020 academic year. Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board stated that the results from the first exam suggest that the SQE is “robust, fair and reliable”.

Law firm mergers – a continuing trend

M&A activity is on the up across the board and the legal sector is no different. So far this year news has emerged of 3 UK law mergers between Weightmans and RadcliffesleBrasseur, Royds Withy King and Goodman Derrick, and DMH Stallard and Griffith Smith. According to a poll by M&A broker Acquira, 47% of UK law firms are considering M&A activity to grow. Plans to expand the geographical footprint and scale up the business by expanding into new areas are the most common motivators driving this activity. Our in house M&A consultant James Gosling can certainly attest to this.

Competition for Junior to Mid-Level positions

The competition for junior to mid-level talent in law firms and in-house legal functions will continue into 2022, however, it remains to be seen which impact the increasing salaries of law firm associates will have on the in-house market; will associates require similar compensation to consider a move in-house? Despite heated discussions about a return to the office, we expect most lawyers will continue to work from home, with many corporates and law firms working on policies and clear plans to reduce their office square footage. Gradually, we will witness a shift from the office as a place of work to a meeting place. Also, those employers who do not show a level of flexibility will struggle to attract talent.

Right to request flexible working

A new consultation has been published on proposals to extend the existing right to request flexible working from ‘day one’ of employment. The consultation is seeking views on how to make flexible working the ‘default position’, which was a manifesto commitment by the government in 2019. The consultation makes it clear that while the government’s ambition is to make flexible working the default position in the workplace, it is not considered practical or desirable to remove the employer’s ability to turn down a request.

As we get further in to 2022 we expect to see the trends outlined above continue and develop. If you are looking to recruit legal professionals in the London area, or are a legal professional yourself searching for the perfect role, you can contact Shannon at or on 0203 897 1884.